Lyn Stanley spoke to us about her work and love of Reel 2 Reel tape, just as she was about to start recording her latest album, now named ‘The Moonlight Sessions Volume One’. The album will be given a preview at the upcoming Axpona show in Chicago and is due for release in May.
Lyn Stanley has taken the audiophile world by storm since her debut album ‘Lost in Romance’ was released in 2013. You might ask “Why?” if you have not heard her albums. She has been described as the new “Grande Dame” of the audio industry’s female vocalists. She works as an audiophile herself, the best quality, arrangers and musicians support her and then she picks the best recording engineers in the field. She records where very few Independent artists do and uses the best soundboards and recording equipment resulting in High End Hifi brands using her work as reference recordings audio shows around the world. Her follow up album, ‘Potions [from the 50s’]’ was recorded on analogue tape as Lyn’s insistence on audio perfection dictated. ‘Interludes’ (2015) is again an analogue recording and pays tribute to the song sirens who were ‘sexually assured, yet never gauche’: Peggy Lee, Julie London, Rosemary Clooney and Doris Day. Lyn is quoted as saying, quite rightly that ‘You don’t have to take your clothes off, to present yourself as sensual.’ I like Lyn a lot. She is warm and welcoming with a big hug whenever we see each other and I admire her strength and her professionalism. Lyn takes control of her music totally, from the recording to the mix and her performances and image, everything is just so and that is down to Lyn. She is known for her warm, sultry vocals and glamorous, classy image but she is also a shrewd businesswoman and demands the best in every aspect of her work.
Lyn only work’s with the most talented in the business and this attention to detail has not gone unnoticed by her huge, and ever growing, audiophile following. Her musicians include the best in the Hollywood studios: Wrecking Crew veterans bassist Chuck Berghofer and pianists Mike Lang and Tom Ranier; renowned pianist/arranger/musical directors Mike Garson, Tamir Hendelmen, Mike Lang and Bill Cunliffe; great jazz soloists like saxophonists Rickey Woodard and Bob Sheppard, trumpeter Gilbert Castellanos and trombonist Bob McChesney; Gold Standard drummers Joe La Barbera, Jeff Hamilton and Paul Kriebich among them. New York virtuosos like pianist Kenny Werner (also her producer for ‘Potions [from the 50s’] and harmonica player, Hendrik Meurkens also grace her albums. She uses the Capitol Records Studio and 23 time Grammy winning engineer Al Schmitt sits at the board on her sessions. Post-production is handled by the legendary jazz mastering guru Bernie Grundman and his engraved signature appears on the flanges of her reels.
I first got to know Lyn through social media and then we met in person at High End Munich 2015. Now in 2017 it is impossible to visit a hifi show and not hear her albums being used to demonstrate hifi systems. The combination of the tunes that she chooses to perform, the arrangement and the quality of the recording and mastering are perfect for showing how good hifi can sound. She has been at the forefront of the vinyl resurgence and is now championing the ultimate audiophile format, reel 2 reel tape. Last year at High End Munich I was treated to a playback of Lyn’s ‘Interludes’ master tapes on Tim De Paravicini’s reel 2 reel system in the Ear Yoshino room. I asked Lyn if tape was her favourite format, ‘yes, just listen’ came her reply, as she stood up to sing along with the tape version. It was impossible to separate the recording from the live vocal. That’s how good tape can sound.
I caught up with Lyn, just as she was about to start recording her latest album, to ask her about, among other things, her relationship with reel 2 reel tape.
Linette Smith (Hifi Pig):
Hi Lyn, you are becoming ever more well known with the demanding audiophile community for the quality of your albums, your last two being recorded in analogue. What was the ‘light bulb’ moment for you when you realised that this was the way forward?
Lyn Stanley (LS):
When I learned what was needed to create the most flexible, highest quality original recording possible. Mastering engineer Bernie Grundman. taught me the reproduction limitations of digital even though vinyl critic, Michael Fremer gave my first album (a digital 192/24 recording) 11/11 for sonics on the vinyl version. I know Bernie Grundman’s team do what clients ask them to do, but he always guides my work as if it were his own work. You can make vinyl from digital recordings (which are mixed and mastered in their digital formats), and the only defining variable seems to be the engineering behind the tracking. My debut album, Lost In Romance, was recorded by Tommy Vacari and mixed by Al Schmitt. My vinyl to date has been released as 45RPM, 180 gram pressings. When I began making vinyl in 2013, it was not at the popularity level it is today and a 45 RPM vinyl represented only five percent of the catalogue of most USA audio retailers. I broke the mould as a newcomer venturing into some risky paths that ended up fruitful.
Hifi Pig: High quality vinyl albums are now incredibly popular with vinyl records selling more that they have done in decades, do you foresee reel 2 reel tape becoming as popular, or will it always remain an audiophile niche?
LS: I personally LOVE the sound of reel-to-reel tape when it is a proper tape recording. What do I mean by that? To my ear, it must be an analogue tape original recording transferred to a production master (30ips) or to the standard 15ips R2R tape. Not a digital recording transferred to tape—creating a gap in the analogue lineage. Of course, the system and reel players are assumed to be great in this statement. Here’s what you need to know. If a final recording is digital the engineers will mix and master it in digital— computerized 1s and 0s throughout the entire process up to the creation of a reel tape. Conversely, analogue tape is a tangible medium with a heartbeat. You can feel it, touch it and it translates a particular sound as a result. This is why I will never make my debut digital album a reel to reel tape. Why would anyone pay to for a reel to reel of a mixed and mastered digital album is beyond me. So, to answer your question, I believe the influx of reel to reel will be elevated by the amount of original analogue tape recordings out there—assuming the buying public is savvy about this particular medium.
Hifi Pig: Your reels look stunning, what particular brand and type of tape do you favour?
LS: I am guided by my suppliers based on what they think are the right products to use for specific purposes. Typically, Bernie Grundman Mastering prefers RMGI SM900. This is a premium high output, +9 dB, recording studio tape, back-coated. ¼ inch tape. It is specially designed to fulfill the highest quality requirements of world class music studios for analogue recording. I use only premium products.
Capitol Recording Studios also uses RGMI when we tracked and/or mix my analogue albums. The production masters furnished to Bernie Grundman are also created from this brand. My albums require two reels per album due to the number of tracks.
My reels are also very special because Bernie Grundman has agreed to support my work and, for the first time in his company’s history, his signature is engraved on my reel flanges along with my album’s logo. The presentation is beautiful.
Hifi Pig: Al Schmitt says that he records you using the same tape as Paul McCartney, Bob Dylan and Neil Young, what tape is that?
LS: What I think he was meaning by this statement was that these albums were recorded using analogue tape. I know the story behind Bob Dylan’s standards album, that he did a comparison between tape and digital and decided in the end to use the digital tracking for his final album. Neil Young provided his own tape for much of the last recording, so I do not know the brand he used either, but I know there’s a story about it. As mentioned before, the tape Capitol orders will be either RGMI or ATR.
Hifi Pig: Where are you happiest and why, on the stage or in the studio?
LS: I am becoming very comfortable in the studio setting due to the amount of recording I have done so far in my career. I like the technical part of recording and the “production” part where everything must line up properly to create the best possible recording. When you record at the studios where I record—Capitol, Avatar, United or Conway, they offer the highest quality experience for the artists and the engineers. One comment you will hear from Al Schmitt is how concerned he is with a studio’s board. He knows every good board in Los Angeles, for sure, and will not work in studios that do not fit his needs.
There is nothing like a “live” performance to nurture the heart of an artist. That said, live performing today has its challenges. Lead vocalists are expected to “fill the house” for venues, and the cost of putting on a performance comes from the artist’s pocketbook—everything from marketing to paying for the musicians and sound engineers—everything. And, many artists work for the cover fee at the door of the venue to make up all expenses. Artists who work alone, or play their own instrument without the need of others, really have a huge advantage in the live gig circuit. On the other hand, artists with a good following, like Adele, and an efficient machine behind tours and gigs make live gigs very worthwhile for all involved. I have performed at several high profile venues in Los Angeles including Catalina Jazz and Grill, Vitello’s, The Cicada Club and Alva’s Showroom.
Hifi Pig: You record with some incredible musicians, who, living or dead would you love to or would have loved to work with and why?
LS: Tough question!! Whilst I got to perform live with my mentor, world-class jazz pianist, Paul Smith, I never got to record with him. That would be a good start. Right now I am working on a ballads album, and offering a salute to deceased tenor sax player from Philadelphia, Stanley Turrnetine, that would be very nice too. Of course, many would tell you they’d like to record with the past greats in jazz that are no longer with us, but I think I would be in awe (imagine a chance to sing with Frank Sinatra or Sammy Davis Jr.!!) and be so tongue tied you’d not be able to sing a note in their presence! Regarding today’s living players, I would enjoy working with stellar singers Michael Buble and Harry Connick Jr., trumpet player Chris Botti, drummer Louis Nash—this list could be extensive—there are many wonderful players out.
Hifi Pig: Likewise, is there a particular track that you have not yet recorded but want to and what is your favourite track from your current recordings to date?
LS: I am about to record my 4th album (at the time of this interview), so I am thinking about this daily at this point in my career. I am working on a new idea for this album with a current working title of “Moonlight Ballads” (now named The Moonlight Sessions Volume One) where I will be taking jazz standards and combining them with classical music. It’s a fresh approach. In terms of a favourite track of my past albums, that’s really a challenging question because I pick my songs because they resonate with me for one reason or another. My favourite on Interludes has been Last Tango In Paris due to the difficulty level of the message and the technical challenge of jumping octaves.
Hifi Pig: When you want to relax, after a hard day’s work in the studio, what is the piece of music that you put on to unwind to?
LS: I spend a great deal of time researching music, and have so little time to “kick back” as you say, because as I listen to music I am dissecting and listening to every musician, every word of a singer’s delivery, and so forth…it’s really a challenge. But, one of my all time favourite relaxing albums has been the sound track from “Out Of Africa,” but there really are many more, this one has just stayed around the longest.
Hifi Pig: If you could give young performers, who are just starting out performing and recording, one piece of advice, what would it be?
LS: First, get a business degree and know music is a business and the margins are small so volume counts. If you enter this field, use your own money so you feel the pain when you need to make difficult decisions. Never copy any other artist unless you are an impersonator. Create your own unique artistry, but it requires risk and know you may win or fail.
Hifi Pig: I heard that you are working on a new project, tell me a bit more about what you have planned.
LS: Moonlight Ballads (Now The Moonlight Sessions Volume One) will be a “salute” to tenor sax player, Stanley Turrentine, as we incorporate a tenor sax parts into many of the songs on the album. I am delighted that it appears, Rickey Woodard, the tenor sax player on my album “Potions [from the 50s’] will be our sax player on this album. I’ve also engaged players from my past albums including pianist Mike Garson, bassist Chuck Berghofer, drummers Joe La Barbara and Paul Kreibich and guitarist, John Chiodini. The songs (so far) in the line up are Willow Weep For Me, Since I Fell For You, How Insensitive, Break It To Me Gently, The Summer Knows, You’ve Changed, Angel Eyes, Close Your Eyes and a few more we are still evaluating. These song’s arrangements will be totally fresh treatments and I am seriously thinking about including strings on some of them.
Thanks Lyn, looking forward to seeing you soon! Linette Smith
My pleasure Linette! Thanks for asking me to do this interview. Lyn Stanley
Lyn Stanley’s ‘The Moonlight Sessions Volume One’ has an anticipated release date of May 2017, on One Step Vinyl, Reel 2 Reel Tape and SACD.
She will also be giving a sneak preview of the new album at the Axpona 2017 Hifi Show at the Chicago Westin O’Hare 2:30pm on Friday 21st of April. You will be able to see footage of the making of The Moonlight Sessions, the mastering session and creating the One Step lacquer and Father stamper. The album can also be heard in Andreas Koch’s Playback Designs’ Room at the show.